3442 30th Street, North Park
Underbelly, Smoking Goat, Alexander's. These are a few of the high traffic restaurants packing in around the intersection of 30th and Upas in North Park, where the new Amorcito Corazon opened this month, replacing what used to be vegetarian fast food spot Veg-n-Out. Even ignoring the aforementioned eateries, there are a wealth of dining options on this block – Lefty's Chicago Pizzeria's is right next store for foodie's sake, and a new gastropub from the Queenstown Public is due to arrive within the next few months.
fMy point is, there is a lot to compete with in this burgeoning section of town, so to open a casual Mexican spot takes cojones, and hopefully a good gameplan. Amorcito Corazon means "darling sweetheart," and the small shop calls itself a "Mexican Bistro," which would seem to pit it against gourmet taco shop Tacos Perla, just around the corner on Upas.
Still, beyond the word bistro, I didn't find much distinction from an everyday taco shop. There's little to the décor beyond a small flowery mural and a couple strings of papel picado flags. While the self-serve tortilla chip and salsa bar prove at least as functional as the tables and chairs, the menu itself becomes crucial.
Options are split among burritos, tacos, salads and plates, with subheaders further designating selections as clasicos, de la casa, del mar and vegetarianos. Clasicos include standards like asada and adobada; while the seafood features red snapper, salmon and shrimp. Perhaps most interesting is the vegetarian menu, which doesn't stop at chile relleno and soy chorizo, but includes nopal cactus and even the corn smut, huitlacoche, a fungal delicacy that hasn't found its way onto many San Diego Mexican menus, in part I'm sure because it's an acquired taste.
I went for a trio of tacos, sticking for the most part to the house, or de la casa, menu. I'm a sucker for the slow-roasted pork dish, chile verde, so that went first. Though usually associated more with Southwest cooking than So Cal Mex, the tomatillo-based stew usually turns out succulent meat and enough tangy spice to make it interesting. Actually, this taco made it more interesting by including rice and beans and a dollop of crema, the former unusual choices for the format. The doubled-up 6-inch corn tortillas meant this taco could hold these ingredients along with plenty of meat, which made the thing both filling and satisfying to an umami-tooth like me.
Next up I checked out their poblano chicken mole. This taco was built the same way, though the slightly chocolaty mole clearly skewed sweeter than the verde sauce. I found the chicken to be well-cooked, not exceptional. Still, I managed to scarf it down, realizing that a two-taco lunch here might have been enough to fill me up.
Nevertheless, I had a third to dig into. Here's where I messed up — I should have gone for the conchinitas pibil, another tender roasted-pork dish from the de la casa menu that the lovely and friendly woman behind the counter recommended heartily. Instead, I decided I should check out the adobada from the clasicos selection. I dig adobada, especially al pastor style, and thought it might be worth a try. But all marinated pork dishes are not the same.
The adobado came a little more typical, piled thick with diced onions, guacamole, and cilantro. It tasted salty. Ultimately, it was all right, but lacked the succulence of the other two tacos. It was kind of what you'd expect from your nearest neighborhood taco joint. Which would be fine in most neighborhoods, but may be tough to justify on this food-rich block. With burritos hovering around 7 or 8 bucks, and tacos about $3.50 apiece, I can see grabbing a California burrito after a few beers at Modern Times, but on this street foot traffic is driven by destination eaters, and outside a strong vegetarian showing, Amorcito Corazon may have a tough time distinguishing itself.